Elul: Plums and Flames

Elul: poached plum

Elul: poached plum

The month of Elul is an acronym for the phrase “Ani l’dodi v l’dodi li” from Song of Songs (I am my beloved and my beloved is mine). It is about the relationship between ourselves and God.  Rabbi Yoel Glick writes that the process of teshuva (return) is “about repairing our shattered vessel. It is about returning to the sense of inner balance and clarity that will make us fitting pipelines to channel the Divine emanation.. . . radically transforms our consciousness. To do teshuvah is to see light instead of darkness – to view the world through God’s transcendent eyes.”

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Av: Mourning and Comfort

Av corn soup

Av corn soup

I’m a bit late in posting for the month of Av which includes the day of mourning, Tisha b’Av, and Tu b’Av, often called the Jewish Valentines Day. The dichotomous holidays take us through a range of emotions from sadness and sorrow moving towards comfort and joy, as we start to prepare for the high holidays. In fact the month is often called Menachem Av, which means comforter or consoler. Literally, as we move through the day of Tisha b’Av, we gradually move to a more hopeful emotional state and towards one of more comfort. We go from sitting on the floor, as is customary with mourners to sitting in chairs. Emotionally, despite the pain of Tisha b’Av, we also have hope. In Judaism, because of our history we always carry narrative of pain and sorrow but are never defeated by it and always look for redemption in even the darkest places. We are steadfast in our optimism.

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Iyar: Connect and Grow

Iyar Beans and Seeds

Iyar Beans and Seeds

Iyar-the second month in the Jewish calendar–is a connector month, between Nisan (Pesach–the exodus and establishment of the nation of Israelites) and Sivan (Shavuot–the receiving of the Torah).  Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes that Pesach “asks us to stop walking the old, familiar paths, and to create change within ourselves and in our relationship with others and with the world.”

Such a process of introspection and healing doesn’t end at Pesach but rather begins. Iyar is a time to sow the seeds of our personal and communal transformations that were planted at Pesach through our liberation from slavery and to prepare for receiving the Torah in Sivan. It “is the month of introspection for the sake of self improvement.” Liberation does not mean one’s journey is complete. And, such a journey is not done alone.  Iyar is known as a healing month.  The acronym of Iyar is represented by the phrase, “I am G-d your healer” (Exodus 15:26). (The manna the Israelites received from G-d during their time in the wilderness first appeared in Iyar, solidifying their reliance on G-d to survive.) Continue reading

Nisan: Bless and Sustain

Nisan: Roasted fruits and quinoa

Nisan: Roasted fruits and quinoa

Nisan is the first month of the Jewish calendar, a celebration of the beginning of Spring (Chodesh Ha-aviv) and Pesach. Unlike Rosh Hashana, which is a new year for the creation of the world, Nisan established the nation of Israelites. G-d instructed Moses, “This month shall be for you the head of months, the first of the months of the year.” (Exodus 12-2).

One is instructed to say a blessing during Nisan for blossoming fruit trees.  With the celebration of Spring in Nisan, one can  visit a park or other natural setting to let one’s senses enjoy the colors, scents, sounds and beauty of this time of year. On my little balcony, I’m immersed in an array of flowers, pots overflowing with herbs and a cacophony of birds chirping (of course there is also the regular sounds of drivers honking their car horns). My neighborhood is alight with bougainvellia in vivid oranges and pinks, cascading over tree tops, walls and bushes.

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Adar 2: Extra Joy

Adar2: Chocolate truffles

Adar 2: Chocolate truffles

When Adar arrives, joy increases.” We are lucky to have two Adars this year (a leap year), a month of joy. Purim is celebrated during Adar 2. There are two significant giving components to Purim. “They are to observe these as days of feasting and gladness, and for sending delicacies to one another, and giving gifts to the poor.” (Esther 9:22). As part of the Purim celebrations, people give mishloach manot (Purim gift baskets), filled with treats, to friends and family. I love  returning home to a stack of mishloach manot at my front door, each one delicious and personalized, filled with homemade treats, fruits and drinks. The baskets are lovely but not extravagant.

Indeed, they should not overshadow Matanot La’evyonim, donations to poor people. Maimonides taught, “It is inappropriate to buy expensive Mishloach Manot, if this will come at the expense of larger gifts to the poor.”  There are countless opportunities to support people in need this Purim through the excellent organizations listed on my resources page.

For my Adar2 recipe, I offer an incredibly delicious and sweet dessert that is completely free of any added sugars. It is possible to enjoy Adar2 and Purim without drowning in sugary desserts!

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Adar: Conflict and Joy

Adar stuffed dates

Adar stuffed dates

We are encouraged to celebrate and have more joy than normal during the month of Adar.
“The whole month of Adar is learning how to grow and heal through joy and laughter. . . . . the main reason we came into this world is to experience and teach joy.” writes Melinda Ribner of Kabbalah of the Heart. Moses was born on the 7th of Adar and the holiday of Purim (the miracle of the Jews survival against Haman) is celebrated during Adar. The 9th of Adar commemorates “marks the day that two thousand years ago healthy disagreements ‘for the sake of Heaven’ turned destructive.”  In honor of it, the 9Adar project is a week devoted to “strengthening a culture of constructive conflict across personal, political, religious, and other divides.”

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Tevet: Eyes

Tevet: Black Eyed Pea Soup

Tevet: Black Eyed Pea Soup

The letter of Tevet is “ayin” which also means eye. “The month of Tevet is the month of the rectification and nullification of the ‘evil eye.’ The word Tevet itself comes from tov, “good,” referring to tov ayin, ‘the goodly eye.'” Indeed, celebrating the remaining days of Chanukah during the beginning of Tevet is an opportunity to see good in the world, as revealed in the burning of the holiday’s candles. “We need the power of the light of Chanukah, especially the light of the last day of Chanukah. . . to help us rectify the “Evil Eye” and to reveal the good (Tov – Tevet) in whatever exists.”

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Kislev: Rainbows, Oil and Salt

Kislev: Oil and Salt Rainbow Salad

Kislev: Oil and Salt Rainbow Salad

During the month of Kislev, which begins later this week, we celebrate Chanukah. The most obvious food of this holiday and month is oil, the miracle ingredient.  During Chanukah, some women recite the story of Judith, a heroine who used salt as a weapon. “Legend has it that Judith fed the enemy general Holofernes salty foods to make him thirsty for wine. As he lay in a drunken stupor she was able to slay him, thus saving Jerusalem from siege.”

A symbol of Kislev is keshet (rainbow). During Kislev, when the flood waters receded, a rainbow appeared in the sky and God told Noah, “I will keep my covenant with you and your descendants…and never again will a flood destroy all life. . . . I have put my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Myself and the world. “

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Cheshvan: Pray for Rain

Cheshvan: Mushroom and bean soup

Cheshvan: Mushroom and Bean soup

In Israel, we begin saying the prayer for rain at the start of the month of Cheshvan (saying the prayer starts later outside of Israel). Rain is desperately needed in Israel and California, which has the worst drought on record. The primary ingredients in this soup require little water to be grown. They are also sowed in the ground and dark places, reflective of the shorter days as we approach winter. With the cooling weather, we start to stay inside more and perhaps become more insular and reflective in our nature. The month–which has no holidays–is sometimes referred to as “MarCheshvan.” Mar means bitter and the parsley leaves on top are symbolic of this bitterness.

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